Born in Rochester, NY, the home of Eastman Kodak, Todd Felderstein (www.toddmakesfotos.com) claims that with these roots he was destined for a career in photography and the visual arts. First introduced to the camera at a very young age via the Pentax Spotmatic, Todd continues to shoot professionally (with current equipment!) in tandem with his career as a director in film & theatre. Early successes include the “Anti-Smoking” media campaign for the City of Los Angeles’ that was featured in print and on billboards throughout Southern California and a series on martial artists that was published by Blackbelt Magazine. Clients through the years include PR and advertising agencies, Mattel, the Los Angeles Times and many others. Today, Todd likes to focus his lens on portraits, musicians, commercial and ‘street’ photography, a close relative to his work in documentary filmmaking. Todd also has a wide array of music videos, documentaries, short and long-form motion productions and was recently a finalist in the “Emerging Filmmaker Program” at the Cannes Film Festival. Todd has taught youth programs in photography and filmmaking all over the country, established the youth documentary program at the San Pedro Int. Film Festival, and is the former executive director of The Story Project, a nonprofit whose mission furthers communication skills in at-risk teens through a curriculum rooted in the media arts.
LACP Interviews Todd Felderstein
LACP Founder and Executive Director LACP asks Todd Felderstein ten questions about his background, career in and beliefs about photography.
LACP: What kind of photographer are you?
Todd Felderstein: As I’ve changed through the years so too has my photography yet, what has remained consistent is my fascination with people. What continues to draw me into the scene are the defining quirks that make us individuals. Lighting, technology and mediums will continue to alter the way we create (except for the purists) yet the spark behind the eyes, those moments of unfettered honesty will always remain constant.
LACP: How long have you been shooting?
TF: If this question refers to the first time I was paid to press the shutter it probably dates back to 1989, give or take. If “how long” refers to when the camera and I first discovered one another, I would have to say it was when I was six years old or so. My parents were given all sorts of camera equipment as a wedding present (Brownie, super 8 film camera, projector) yet this batch of imagineering lived in boxes, waiting for me to enter this world. Thank goodness they had the intuition to hold onto this equipment since a future photographer was on the way.
LACP: Where did you get your training?
TF: My eye came with the rest of the package. Originally from Rochester, NY, (home of Eastman Kodak) I think I was born with fixer in my blood and a Nikon instead of fingers. Formally, I studied photography in high school, but the truth is, that from a young age, a camera was most often within reach. After moving to California in my early twenties I sporadically took photography classes at UCLA and Santa Monica College to unearth theory. Without realizing the significance, I put in my 10,000 hours long ago.??
LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?
TF: Ah, devotion. Photography remains my most trusted companion. I can’t imagine not being able to make pictures. It has never been a choice.
LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?
TF: There have been lulls where life has provided its distractions but each and every time I pick up the camera it reminds me what it means to see.
LACP: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?
TF: My life defines the freelancer. It was never my intention but here I am. As those with security and all that comes with it yearn for more freedom, I think those who have had the good fortune to seek out have the occasional pull to stay put. I don’t see it as a sacrifice, I see it as what it is.
LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?
TF: Besides a very keen eye, photography also trains you to listen and understand. Whether these skills, along with my unending patience, are products of being a photographer or my photography is a result of the above is up for debate. A career in photography also provides you with remarkable access to people and places from all walks of life. Having a camera is an international passport; being a photographer is embracing a responsibility, it is like being an ambassador to whatever is in front of your lens.
LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?
TF: With a fifteen plus year history as a nonprofit mentor and a former executive director of a media-based storytelling nonprofit, I have been encouraging young people for years. It is a pleasure to work with teen photographers at LACP, particularly in the areas of street and portraiture.
LACP: What do you love most about teaching?
TF: I believe that curiosity plus ambition equals talent. Kids come to the table with so much and when they make discoveries, the evidence is palpable. The key, I believe, is to remove their obstacles that prevent learning. That’s my job; plus, I offer a bunch of practical knowledge and encouragement along the way.
LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?
TF: With so many pictures being taken today and then digitally manipulated, I recommend everyone to learn the difference between a snapshot and a conscious image. Step two is to create a style that defines you. It’s difficult to be all things to all people. Consider yourself an individual and make sure your images reflect that specialness that defines who you are as a future professional.